Another Ebook Rant

Feb 25 2011 Published by under information policy, publishing

Oh, this just kills me. It's absolutely despicable, and I don't mean cute like the movie.

(via Jill Hurst-Wahl) see this blog post from Bobbi Newman.

You know how I keep going on and on about ebooks and licensing? How you don't own them? DRM and all?

Well, one of the largest ebook providers to public libraries, Overdrive, has announced that "purchasing" a book on their system means you only get 26 check-outs. Then the book will disappear. (insert really unladylike language here).

One positive for libraries wrt ebooks has been the return on investment - but this could mean that a book costs about $1/checkout. That's totally not sustainable. I used to see books with more than 200 lifetime checkouts. Considering the fact that this would also include people renewing books (there is no real renewal, you have to check the book out again) if they didn't finish reading.

In print books you have the first sale doctrine. Here you are purchasing a block of uses (like we used to do with First Search databases for the librarians in the crowd). No point in models where you "buy" books at all. You should just get access to the database and pay an annual subscription.

We had a vendor try some crazy thing where we would pay them for all of their ebooks, but each one could only be downloaded once - ever. (crazy, huh? and this was tens of thousands of dollars).

Oh, oh, and another thing. They want to audit that you're not giving library cards to people outside your geographic area. Boooogus.

Overdrive should just stop carrying books from that particular publisher. Yeah, we would complain, but the principle is important.

7 responses so far

  • rknop says:

    Yes, Overdrive should drop that. But, also, libraries should probably stop buying books with DRM. As long as people convince themselves that they can live with DRM and keep paying for it, it will stay around. Sooner or later somebody's going to have to stop buying it if we don't want to have it.

    What makes me sad about this is that supposedly the reasoning behind it was that physical books suffer wear and tear and thus have an effective limit in the number of checkouts they can sustain... therefore it's reasonable to do the same for an ebook. The sad thing is, one of the BENEFITS of an ebook is that it DOESN'T suffer wear and tear! This is yet more of the 20th century publishing industry trying to make the new world look just like the old world by removing the great new advances and opportunities given by digital technology.

    We really need somebody to figure out a sustainable publishing business model that doesn't require limiting copies, and then take off. We have to hope that somebody figures that out before the old school manages to legislate that it's illegal to come up with a business model that could provide substantial competition with existing publishing companies.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      Yeah, but we're hopelessly addicted to trying to get customers what they want. Many public library ebooks require DRM - so it's that or nothing. In research settings, Springer shines as the one of the few companies that doesn't DRM their books at all. They have good books, too, so we've purchased a lot of their collections.

  • Lis Carey says:

    It's important to note that this is not OverDrive's idea, and, so far at least, it's not all publishers. It's HarperCollins.

    Those of us who have purchasing authority need to bear this in mind in making purchasing decisions.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      It would be great if libraries would boycott Harper-Collins imprints - in print as well as e, but they have some big authors so I don't know if that will hold.

  • Mark says:

    This is all only a small part of what I like to think of as the "biggest gorilla" phenomenon. The biggest gorilla uses their power to get the best food, sleeping spots etc., thereby consolidating and increasing their power.

    The thing is that in our modern world the big entities are literally millions of times as powerful as the rest of us. And power really is global power; sure we can try to limit this sort of thing with fair use provisions etc, but the wealthy - or rather IMO, predatory class - can just change it back, or they can just ignore that battle and accept the loss since they are winning all the other ones anyway. They are so powerful at this point they can just directly take money and power from the rest of us one way ot another. Fake allonges anyone? Those tax cut extensions?

    How will it all end? Well, either we all team up to form an entity more powerful than them and beat them *generally*, or if we could at least take away their power in the political realm we could at least use government to correct this sort of problem, although I'm not sure if that would last. *cough* citizens united *cough*

    Or we get increasingly enslaved. Mmm, yeah, probably. And anyone who doesn't think "we" are enslaved much right now, I suggest having a look at a few books like "Nickel and Dimed". That might not be you personally, but these folks are part of we, and chronic wage-enslavement is going to become increasingly common, then indenturing, etc... And it doesn't apply to just America either.

    “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.“

    -Henry David Thoreau

    That's what we really need, real striking at the root. But when was the last time you saw a bunch of little gorillas getting together and ousting the big guy - the problem is they are fucking gorillas.....

  • Jennifer says:

    Over at, she's created a Boycott image free for anyone to use. It would be great if everyone took a stand against HC and let them know we're fairly well-united against this. It certainly doesn't help foster reading in younger generations that are growing up in a digital age.
    And join our facebook group! HarperCollins Facebook Boycott Page

  • A 26 loan cap on an eBook is friggin ridiculous. I have books I bought three decades ago, have read dozens of times, and are still in pristine condition. A cap in the 100's? Possibly reasonable. But 26? A travesty.

    No more buying HarperCollins books ... electronic or hard copy.